Growing your own food has incredible benefits for adults — it tastes great, it calms you down, it unites your family, it’s even an antidepressant (and that’s not the half of it)—but no one appreciates the process more than kids.
No botany class will ever be able to fully explain how a tiny seed a quarter centimeter long can, in the span of weeks, become a soft, sweet, nutritious fruit a hundred times that size. As adults, we lose sight of the miracle in that. But kids recognize it, and their awe is written all over their faces as they observe the process.
How can you make sure your kids enjoy growing food instead of looking at it as a chore? Here are ten simple ways:
Break out the cookie cutters 1 of 10
Slice up your carrots, eggplants, sweet bell peppers, melon and cucumbers into slabs and let your kids go to town with cookie cutters. You'll find they're much more jazzed about eating fresh raw fruits and vegetables in the shape of hearts and stars than plain old sticks or chunks.
Amp up the color 2 of 10
Heirloom seeds grow vegetables in an amazing variety of colors: purple and red potatoes, rainbow carrots, bright-lights chard, Easter egg radishes, purple asparagus and tri-color beans. Spend time looking at seed catalogs with color photos to help kids choose what they want to grow. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a great seed catalog.
Always keep it fun 3 of 10
Don't make gardening an unpleasant chore. It's more important for kids to relax and explore in this space than it is for them to master specific skills. The more time children spend enjoying a garden the more they will absorb its best benefits — learning to slow down, focus, engage their senses, and strengthen their powers of observation.
Let them own it 4 of 10
Let kids have an area of the garden where they can decide what they want to grow. Here they should have the freedom to do all the steps. Suggest interesting crops like fiesta-colored veggies (more on that below), baby gherkin cucumbers, or fun-shaped gourds.
Don’t sit on the sidelines 5 of 10
Kids will follow your lead in the garden. Slow down your own life for an hour or two a week and work with kids on all garden tasks: weeding, planting, harvesting. Toddlers and even babies as soon as they can crawl will enjoy simple pleasures like patting the soil, roaming beneath the growing plants, and munching on the harvest.
Let loose on labels 6 of 10
Let kids who can write do the plant labels. We love the large wooden plant labels at Johnny's Selected Seeds, which give plenty of space for kids to print the name of each plant and decorate. Parents often hover nearby to answer spelling questions and correct kids on their plant labels — but don't sweat that. In one family Jeanne worked with, the parents that were firm believers in letting their kids find their own way in sounding out words. The labels the kids drew up for complicated vegetable names were amazingly creative, jumbles of consonants sprinkled with random vowels: "dcanrahds" for daikon radish; "reedkabige" for red cabbage. They did the job!
Keep the paths clear 7 of 10
Clearly marked paths are crucial when gardening with kids so you don't have to constantly remind them to not step on the plants or compress the soil you've worked so hard to aerate.
Grow at school 8 of 10
If your kids' school doesn't yet have a food garden, lead the charge to grow one. Thousands of elementary schools across the country are building gardens on their campuses, and integrating those gardens into their curricula. The gardens are used by teachers across disciplines: Kids are going out to the garden to count beans instead of buttons and to measure plant growth for their math classes; they're writing poetry about growing flowers and fruit for their English classes; they're drawing plants for their art classes; they're learning about the history of civilization as they're harvesting corn.
Edibleschoolyard.org, the website for Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard project, is hands down the best online resource for school gardening curricula and ideas.
Do your research 9 of 10
The National Gardening Association has a great online resource with information and tips on family and school gardening. NGA has delivered to date more than $4 million in funding for youth gardens, and applications for their grants and awards can be found on the website.
Read to them 10 of 10
Jeanne used to give a copy of the illustrated picture book A Seed Grows: My First Look at a Plant's Life Cycle by Pamela Hickman to every client with kids. It explains everything a child needs to know about the lifecycles of vegetables and fruits and is great to read to kids as young as 3 or 4. We also love the children's book The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small—gorgeous!